Head-to-nerve analysis of electromechanical impairments of diffuse axonal injury

  • Ilaria CinelliEmail author
  • Michel Destrade
  • Peter McHugh
  • Antonia Trotta
  • Michael Gilchrist
  • Maeve Duffy
Original Paper


The aim was to investigate mechanical and functional failure of diffuse axonal injury (DAI) in nerve bundles following frontal head impacts, by finite element simulations. Anatomical changes following traumatic brain injury are simulated at the macroscale by using a 3D head model. Frontal head impacts at speeds of 2.5–7.5 m/s induce mild-to-moderate DAI in the white matter of the brain. Investigation of the changes in induced electromechanical responses at the cellular level is carried out in two scaled nerve bundle models, one with myelinated nerve fibres, the other with unmyelinated nerve fibres. DAI occurrence is simulated by using a real-time fully coupled electromechanical framework, which combines a modulated threshold for spiking activation and independent alteration of the electrical properties for each three-layer fibre in the nerve bundle models. The magnitudes of simulated strains in the white matter of the brain model are used to determine the displacement boundary conditions in elongation simulations using the 3D nerve bundle models. At high impact speed, mechanical failure occurs at lower strain values in large unmyelinated bundles than in myelinated bundles or small unmyelinated bundles; signal propagation continues in large myelinated bundles during and after loading, although there is a large shift in baseline voltage during loading; a linear relationship is observed between the generated plastic strain in the nerve bundle models and the impact speed and nominal strains of the head model. The myelin layer protects the fibre from mechanical damage, preserving its functionalities.


Coupled electromechanical modelling Finite element modelling Equivalences Diffuse axonal injury Trauma 



The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Galway University Foundation, the Biomechanics Research Centre and the Power Electronics Research Centre, College of Engineering and Informatics, NUI Galway (Galway, Republic of Ireland).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10237_2018_1086_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (636 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 636 kb)


  1. Abdellah M et al (2018) NeuroMorphoVis: a collaborative framework for analysis and visualization of neuronal morphology skeletons reconstructed from microscopy stacks. Bioinformatics 34(13). Retrieved
  2. Alvarez Q et al (1978) Voltage-dependent capacitance in lipid bilayers made from monolayers. Biophys J. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bain AC et al (2000) Tissue-level thresholds for axonal damage in an experimental model of central nervous system white matter injury. J Biomech Eng. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Björnholm L et al (2017) Structural properties of the human corpus callosum: multimodal assessment and sex differences. NeuroImage. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boucher PA et al (2012) Coupled left-shift of Nav channels: modeling the Na+-loading and dysfunctional excitability of damaged axons. J Comput Neurosci. MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cinelli I et al (2015) Thermo-electrical equivalents for simulating the electro-mechanical behavior of biological tissue. In: Proceedings of the Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, EMBS, vol 2015–Novem, pp 3969–3972.
  7. Cinelli I et al (2017a) Effects of nerve bundle geometry on neurotrauma evaluation. Int J Numer Methods Biomed Eng. Retrieved
  8. Cinelli I et al (2017b) Electro-mechanical response of a 3D nerve bundle model to mechanical loads leading to axonal injury. In: Proceedings of the annual international conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, EMBS, pp 978–81. Retrieved
  9. Cinelli et al (2017c) Electro-thermal equivalent 3D finite element model of a single neuron. IEEE Trans Biomed Eng 65(6):1373–1381.
  10. Cinelli et al (2017d) Electro-mechanical response of a 3D nerve bundle model to mechanical loads leading to axonal injury. Int J Numer Methods Biomed Eng 978–981. MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cinelli I et al (2017e) Neurotrauma evaluation in a 3D electro-mechanical model of a nerve bundle. In: 8th International IEEE EMBS conference on neural engineering, pp 2–5. IEEE. Retrieved
  12. Dixit P et al (2017) A review on recent development of finite element models for head injury simulations. Arch Comput Methods Eng. CrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  13. Einziger PD et al (2003) Novel cable equation model for myelinated nerve fiber. In: First international IEEE EMBS conference on neural engineering, 2003. Conference Proceedings, vol 52(10).
  14. El Hady A et al (2015) Mechanical surface waves accompany action potential propagation. Nat Commun 6(6697). Retrieved
  15. Galbraith JA et al (1993) Mechanical and electrical responses of the squid giant axon to simple elongation. J Biomech Eng. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Garcia-Gonzalez D et al (2017) On the mechanical behaviour of PEEK and HA cranial implants under impact loading. J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Garcia-Gonzalez D et al (2018) Cognition based BTBI mechanistic criteria; a tool for preventive and therapeutic innovations. Sci Rep. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Garcia-Grajales JA et al (2015) Neurite, a finite difference large scale parallel program for the simulation of electrical signal propagation in neurites under mechanical loading. PLoS ONE. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Geddes DM et al (2003) Mechanical stretch to neurons results in a strain rate and magnitude-dependent increase in plasma membrane permeability. J Neurotrauma. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gray JAB, Ritchie JM (1954) Effects of stretch on single myelinated nerve fibres. J Physiol 124(1):84–99. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hemphill MA et al (2015) Traumatic brain injury and the neuronal microenvironment: a potential role for neuropathological mechanotransduction. Neuron. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hodgkin AL, Huxley AF (1952) A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve. J Physiol 117(117):500–544. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Horgan TJ et al (2003) The creation of three-dimensional finite element models for simulating head impact biomechanics. Int J Crashworthiness. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Horgan TJ et al (2004) Influence of FE model variability in predicting brain motion and intracranial pressure changes in head impact simulations. Int J Crashworthiness. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jérusalem A et al (2014) A computational model coupling mechanics and electrophysiology in spinal cord injury. Biomech Model Mechanobiol 13(4). Retrieved
  26. Kan EM et al (2012) Microenvironment changes in mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Res Bull. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kanari L et al (2018) A topological representation of branching neuronal morphologies. Neuroinformatics. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lajtha et al (2009) Handbook of neurochemistry and molecular neurobiology, vol 281, Springer.
  29. Li et al (2016) Epidemiology of traumatic brain injury over the world: a systematic review. General Medicine: Open Access. 04.
  30. Ma J et al (2016) Progress of research on diffuse axonal injury after traumatic brain injury. Neural Plasticity. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Majdan M et al (2016) Epidemiology of traumatic brain injuries in Europe: a cross-sectional analysis. The Lancet Public Health . CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McCrory P et al (2017) What is the definition of sports-related concussion: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mohammadipour A et al (2017) Micromechanical analysis of brain’s diffuse axonal injury. J Biomech. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mosgaard LD et al (2015) Mechano-capacitive properties of polarized membranes. Soft Matter 11(40). Retrieved
  35. Mueller JK et al (2014) A quantitative overview of biophysical forces impinging on neural function. Phys Biol 11(5). Retrieved
  36. Samaka H, Tarlochan F (2013) Finite element (FE) human head models / literature review. Int J Sci Technol Res 2(7):17–31.
  37. Siedler DG et al (2014) Diffuse axonal injury in brain trauma : insights from alterations in neurofilaments. Front Cell Neurosci. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smith DH, Meaney DF (2000) Axonal damage in traumatic brain injury. Neuroscientist. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Smith DH, Wolf JA, Lusardi TA, Lee VM-Y, Meaney DF (1999) High tolerance and delayed elastic response of cultured axons to dynamic stretch injury. J Neurosci 19(11):4263–4269. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tang-schomer MD et al (2017) Mechanical breaking of microtubules in axons during dynamic stretch injury underlies delayed elasticity, microtubule disassembly, and axon degeneration. FASEB J. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wang HC et al (2010) Experimental models of traumatic axonal injury. J Clin Neurosci. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wang J et al (2011) Traumatic axonal injury in the optic nerve: evidence for axonal swelling. J Neurotrauma. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wazen RM et al (2014) The WU-Minn human connectome project: an overview. NIH Public Access 8(9). Retrieved
  44. Wright RM (2012) Computational model for traumatic brain injury based on an axonal injury. The Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved
  45. Wright RM et al (2012) An axonal strain injury criterion for traumatic brain injury. Biomech Model Mechanobiol. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Young PG et al (2015) Developing a finite element head model for impact simulation in Abaqus. In: SIMULIA community conferenceGoogle Scholar
  47. Yu N et al (2012) Spontaneous excitation patterns computed for axons with injury-like impairments of sodium channels and Na/K pumps. PLoS Comput Biol. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zhang PC et al (2001) Voltage-induced membrane movement. Nature 413(6854). Retrieved
  49. Zhang YP et al (2014) Traumatic brain injury using mouse models. Transl Stroke Res. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Discipline of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering and InformaticsNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayRepublic of Ireland
  2. 2.School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics, College of ScienceNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayRepublic of Ireland
  3. 3.School of Mechanical and Materials EngineeringUniversity College DublinBelfield, Dublin 4Republic of Ireland
  4. 4.Power Electronics Research Centre, Discipline of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, College of Engineering and InformaticsNational University of Ireland GalwayGalwayRepublic of Ireland

Personalised recommendations